Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bubbly lady

After a 3 hour drive to Champagne, myself, the Maltese importer and the Russian Champagne lover, were all looking forward to taste some bubbly. Thanking our Sicilian friend Luca for organising the visiting to Corbon; who eventually didn’t make it to Champagne due to a certain volcano in distant Iceland, we hurriedly checked in at our guest house and made our way to the tasting. After a few minutes browsing the streets of Avize our treasure hunt finally led us to Agnes Corbon, a lady in her mid 30s with a twist of British accent who was to be our introduction to the Champagne region and to our great weekend there.

Agnes firstly introduced us to the recipe used by the 5000 cooks in Champagne. The various cepages used, pressing methods, explaining how the cuvee, the tailles and the various vintages are used in the art of assemblage. Then she took us down to their cellars were she explained how she is changing the methods in the cellars by introducing barrel fermentation, a different vision from her dad’s which wasn’t easy to introduce. Her dad also took the time to demonstrate degorgement by hand, a method he used before machinery was introduced in their cellars. It was thrilling to get to know such a man where experience isn’t written in CVs yet on the palm of his hand and carved in his warm smile.

Tasting champagne, oh yes we got to do that too. First we started off with Absolument Brut; this champagne has it biggest % age of base wine coming from the 2002 vintage. 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, this wine has a lovely floral and light fruity bouquet, with nice balanced acidity on the palate. Next up was the Prestige Champagne, this time a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. Here what struck me was the burnt toasty aromas on the nose. The Vintage 2000 made from 100% Chardonnay from Avize (Cotes de Blanc) only disgorged a few months ago had lovely creamy bubbles on the palate with fresh acidity and long toasty finish. Finally, saving the best for last, we tasted the Brut D’Autrefois which, drum rolls, comes for a solera system just like in Jerez for Sherry production. The wines are an assemblage of various vintages since 1989 and every year a percentage of the cuvee is added to the reserve wine keeping a good blend between the different vintages. This reserve wine is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. The final wine is a floral, delicate and elegant wine with a round long persistence on the palate. A really complex inviting Champagne.

With the bubbles kicking in and the warm atmosphere in the living room, it was just the right time to ask some questions, both of a personal and a political nature. What do you (Agnes) think of the expansion rules in Champagne? From the look in her face, it was clear that she had made up her opinion and she was against this new move in Champagne. According to her it’s not economically viable to expand further and therefore produce more, with sales of champagne already dropping due to recession. More production would increase the crisis for producers in champagne. She also explained how the commission has ruled out certain areas for production in Germaine and other northerly areas of Montagne de Reims due the cold severe temperatures there, but might these vineyards be more productive in the near future due to global warming? She also explained that rumours also have it that the big players are buying land around Champagne hoping that this land will be introduced in the appellation. Like everywhere else it seems politics play a very interesting role. LVMH being the biggest player issued invoices to their vigernons in January, a month later than usual, just to have good looking accounts at the end of the year (2009) in the hope of selling their important label Moet. Yet, Agnes also recognised the importance of such players in the market, without their constant advertising Champagne wouldn’t be so well-known world-wide.

The personal question; why did you leave your winery 6 years ago and what brought you back? Agnes explained that like Antz the movie, she was the ant who sought something different, she wanted to experience more than the region of Champagne so she travelled and worked in different countries, yet when she became a mother she realised the importance of her roots, her sense of place so she retraced her way back to Avize and took over her father’s work. Indeed, a great continuation with passion for this bubbly has always been the focal point of this family-owned Champagne house and Agnes will make sure it always shall be.

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